The Prince Albert Grand Council held a news conference today to praise the efforts of first responders, the RCMP, the Canadian Rangers, and residents of Fond du Lac, Black Lake and Stony Rapids for their response to what could have been a catastrophic plane crash.

A West Wind Aviation twin turboprop passenger plane with 25 people on board crashed just after takeoff from the Fond du Lac airport at 6:15 last night.

The fuel tanks ruptured spilling aviation fuel on the wreckage, as well as on passengers and rescuers, but there was no fire or explosion and all 25 people survived.

According to officials with the PAGC, four people suffered serious injuries — including a pilot and the flight attendant. An elder with the Fond du Lac Dene First Nation was also seriously injured.

Fond du Lac Chief Louie Mercredi says three members of his band were on the plane and played a key role in the rescue efforts.

There was cargo on the plane and people couldn’t get out through the emergency exits,” he said. “One of my councilors, Willie John Laurent, as well as two of my local members, Arson Fern and Carrie Mercredi, managed to open up the emergency exit. Then they extracted most of the passengers of the plane.”

There was also help from local residents. Raymond Sanger was one of the first to arrive on scene to do what he could to help people get out.

We were ripping the plane apart with our hands, with whatever we could find,” he said. “Everybody there was doing anything they could do release those people.”

One of the passengers on the plane says it began to shake violently right after takeoff, then there were bangs and scrapes as it hit tree tops before crashing to the ground. The pilots apparently turned off all power just before the final impact reducing the chance of a major fire.

Transportation Safety Board investigators will be on the scene today looking for a cause. The plane crashed less than a kilometre from the runway.

Based on the takeoff speed and the distance travelled, it would have been in the air for less than 17 seconds. The plane, an ATR 42, has a passenger capacity of 44. It’s takeoff speed is about 210 kilometres an hour, with a cruising speed of about 490 kilometres an hour.

UPDATE – According to the Transportation Safety Board the aircraft was equipped with two data recorders, a Flight Data Recorder and a Cockpit Voice Recorder.

In a tweet posted on Thursday the safety board says these recorders have been sent to their lab in Ottawa for further analysis.

(PHOTO: Courtesy Transportation Safety Board)